As the UK vaping market approaches maturity, the major brands are making the running. Imperial Brands’ bestselling blu brand has been running a high-profile consumer ad campaign over the summer, winning over former smokers looking for quality products from a brand they can trust.
Meanwhile the stream of blu NPD continues. The blu UK team are constantly exploring ways to further strengthen their range of vaping devices and liquids, using the best in vaping technology, and this has inspired their latest launch, a new, improved Golden Tobacco flavour complementing the existing myblu range.
Chris Street, Head of Trade Marketing at blu UK, speaks to Grocery Trader:
“My job is focused on creating the tools and activities to support our customers and our sales team. We visit trade customers and consumers and run retailer panels throughout the year, to keep our knowledge fresh and up to date.”
Imperial Brands is an international fast-moving consumer goods company borne out of a strong tobacco heritage, says Chris, and has evolved as a business to embrace changing market dynamics and develop new consumer experiences:
“We are currently witnessing the biggest consumer shift in our history, with millions of smokers around the world choosing to switch to less harmful Next Generation Products (NGP) such as myblu. As a result, we are increasingly focusing our attention on developing and expanding our NGP portfolio, the predominant focus being vaping products.”
The vaping category is widely referred to in the industry as Next Generation Products (NGP), as it is concerned with moving consumers on from tobacco to next generation products. Imperial Brands entered the NGP market in 2009, as Chris Street recalls:
“Working with the brightest minds in the vaping sector – including Hon Lik, the inventor of the e-cigarette – we created the original skycig cigalike. Nine years later, in 2018, we launched our signature myblu device after two years’ careful development and testing. The popularity of this breakthrough pod mod device demonstrates blu’s understanding of the needs of today’s vapers.
“These figures are only expected to rise,” says Chris, “which is no surprise when you consider the significant lifestyle and cost benefits compared to traditional tobacco. However, currently only a minority of vape sales stem from traditional retail outlets, suggesting a real growth opportunity for retailers prepared to invest in upskilling their staff and educating them on the category.”
In addition, says Chris, it is expected that the 40% of smokers who have never tried vaping will increasingly take Public Health England’s advice and switch, after PHE concluded vaping is around 95% less harmful than traditional tobaccoiv.
The array of vaping products on offer can seem bewildering, but the size of devices and the strength of e-liquids are limited by the EUTPD regulations: “Any nicotine-containing e-liquid refill container must be no more than 10ml in capacity. Furthermore, clearomisers and cartridges cannot have a capacity of more than 2ml. The maximum possible nicotine strength of e-liquids is currently set at 20 mg/ml.”
Adding another layer of regulation, E-cigarette manufacturers have to submit information on any product to the government for approval before it can be sold to the public. blu fully supports these procedures, says Chris, as they ensure all products available to vapers are made to a high standard and have the customer’s best interests at heart.
The blu product range is a relatively recent newcomer to the vaping market, but it’s the result of considerable work and investment by Imperial Brands:
“Our signature myblu device launched in spring 2018 following two years of development and vigorous testing. From the lightweight format and rapid charging time to the smooth curved edges that sit comfortably in your hand or pocket, we have created a truly innovative product which delivers instant vaping satisfaction. Thanks to its exceptional performance and vaping experience, coupled with its sleek, easy-to-use pod mod design, myblu has grown extensively in distribution and availability.”
Alongside myblu, Imperial Brands have also introduced their Intense Liquidpods featuring Nicotine Salts, better known in vaping circles as nicsalts. Chris explains how they work:
“Devised by smokers for smokers, nicsalts result in nicotine being absorbed into the body faster than normal e-liquids. This rapid absorption of nicotine through nicsalts allows myblu Intense to more closely replicate the experience of smoking a traditional cigarette, appealing to adult smokers looking to switch for the first time, or those who have tried vaping before and haven’t been completely convinced.”
myblu is blu’s leading pod mod device, offering vapers and smokers a much simpler format to use and an easier experience in the transition from smoking to vaping. In terms of liquids, outside of menthol variants, research shows that fruit-based flavours are increasingly preferred.v Three of the five top-selling blu e-liquid flavours are fruit-based – No.1 menthol, No.2 blueberry, No.3 tobacco, No.4 strawberry mint and No.5 cherryvi.
Completing the lineup, the latest addition to the myblu portfolio is a new Starter Pack featuring the Intense Liquidpods. Rolling out into stores now, the new myblu Intense Starter Kit includes the popular pod mod vape device and USB charger, along with two Intense Liquidpods, at an RRP of £19.99. The Intense Liquidpods that come with the kit include Menthol and Golden Tobacco variants, two of blu’s best-selling e-liquid flavoursvii.
Explaining the rationale behind the latest launch, Chris says:
“Our latest market insights show adult smokers need to experience different flavours in order to really commit to vaping and make the switch a permanent lifestyle change. They also want and expect a nicotine delivery more similar to a traditional cigarette, something our Intense range looks to satisfy, thanks to the inclusion of nicsalts. Launched in response to this growing demand, our new Intense Starter Kit offers a range of flavours with a rapid nicotine delivery that will help make the switch easier from cigarettes to vaping.”
The supermarkets, Co-ops and c-store chains’ support is crucial to the growth of the vaping category in the UK, says Chris, and effective in-store displays are key:
“We’re increasingly seeing a trend for supermarkets to pursue category-enhancing retail display solutions designed specifically for the channel. By partnering with an established vaping brand like blu, retailers can provide a full portfolio of vape technology through innovative display solutions that meet the needs of discerning consumers. We work with customers to help provide suitable in-store displays tailored to their shoppers to help UK smokers make the switch to something better.”
Under existing UK rules, convenience format stores can display, advertise and promote vaping products in and around the store: “Dynamic displays and eye-catching PoS can really help drive visibility and grab the attention of shoppers as soon as they walk through your door,” says Chris.
It’s not just about in-store, Imperial Brands are committed to backing blu above the line with high-profile media activity. They ran a major campaign over the summer to tap into key social moments, raise consumer awareness of vaping and encourage adult smokers to switch to myblu, as a less harmful alternative to cigarettes.
Live from June to September the campaign included a heavy presence of outdoor advertising and brand activations across cities nationwide, with the aim of getting the nation to stand up and take notice first, then action, by switching to something better with blu. As we end our conversation, Chris has his eyes on the future:
“The continuous evolution of vaping technology, allied to changing consumer trends, makes this an incredibly fast-moving and exciting category. As the vaping market matures, championing innovation and product quality is essential for brands to maintain relevance with consumers. New research has found that many vapers across the whole industry are looking to improve their vaping experience and blu is at the forefront of this.”
Retailers interested in exploring new display solutions for their store should contact their local blu sales representative for more information
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